In Thai, Luk Pra Kob, is the name given to treatments that use Thai Herbal Compresses. The literal translation is “pressing herbal sphere” or herbal ball. Luk Pra Kob is a method of treatment employed in traditional Thai Medicine that stimulates the Sen Sib lines (the Thai energy lines, similar to Chinese Meridian lines and Indian Prana Nadi lines).
The compresses that Hillary uses during her sessions and during training include many different herbs, roots, flowers, and leaves that have been dried and wrapped in cotton fabric.
Brief Historical Background
The Luk Pra Kob treatment has been used in Thailand for over 400 years, as shown in the following accounts:
In a text known as Pra Osoth Pra Narai, written from 1660 to 1687, the Luk Pra Kob herbal compress was applied locally for pain relief and was described to have the physiological effect of “vein stretching”. This description could be interpreted as vasodilation.
In 1832, His Majesty King Rama V ordered that a complete record of Thai healing practices be documented. This occurred at the temple known as Wat Pho, also known as Wat Pra Chetupon Vimol Mungklala Ram. At the time, the Luk Pra Kob was described to have therapeutic effects on musculoskeletal pain and possible benefits for urinary tract obstruction.
The younger brother of His Majesty King Rama III, Krome Praya Dumrong Rajanuparp, initiated a third reference to the ancient wisdom of the Luk Pra Kob. He appointed the head of the Vejasamosorn School, Praya Pisanuprasatveija, to supervise the documentation of all Thai Traditional Medicine into the medical bible known as The Sart Songkraow. It has two volumes, Pat Sart Songkraow, which literally means, “the practice of providing respectful healing to all people”. This text was stored in the Royal Library, Hor Pra Samud Vachiaryarn. At the time, the Luk Pra Kob was also described to have therapeutic effects on musculoskeletal pain.
In 2002, the Thai Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine Development, and the Foundation of Thai Traditional Medicine Development produced a book on multiple traditional medicines, including the Luk Pra Kob. They stated that the Luk Pra Kob can be used as an anti-inflammatory, local analgesic (relieves pain) and muscle relaxant, and that it improves range of motion and local circulation.
As stated in the previous section, The Luk Pra Kob treatment has been approved by the largest, governing, Thai organizations to be used as an anti-inflammatory, local analgesic, muscle relaxant, and to improve range of motion and local circulation.
The effects of the heat and the healing properties of the herbs have a deep impact on the body. As the heat penetrates the pores, the skin becomes heated, blood vessels are dilated, and blood flow is stimulated, resulting in more rapid rebuilding and nourishing of the body’s tissues.
The herbs hold the heat from the steam to deeply penetrate and relax the muscles and tendons. This aids in stretching contracted or shortened muscles to alleviate pain and tension in the body. Deep relaxation relieves stress, improving overall health and well-being. The healing properties of the specific herbs provide added benefits for the sinuses, skin, respiratory system, heart, circulation, and digestion.
Ingredients & Properties
The herbs in the compresses have been dried and some of them crushed into a powder form. There are many, different recipes for compresses–the following recipe is one example of a traditional, Thai compress, which include the following dried herbs.: Siamese yellow ginger, Lemongrass, Turmeric, Tamarind leaf, Kaffir lime peels and leaves, Camphor, Borneal Camphor, Menthol, Pandanus leaf, Acacia leaf, and Sea Salt. These compresses can be made fresh of course, but they won’t last as long (only 2 days or so) as opposed to several weeks to a month when dried.
Siamese yellow ginger (Zingiber purpureum)
Also referred to as Plai in Thai. Yellow ginger is similar to regular, culinary ginger (Zingiber officinale), and the two are sometimes used interchangeably.
PARTS USED: Rhizome (the stem part that grows horizontally under the ground)
MEDICINAL: Like culinary ginger, Siamese ginger treats colds, fevers, appetite loss, nausea, genito-urinary and lung infections, and reduces inflammation. It makes a warming liniment. Studies show that ginger helps protect the liver.
AROMATHERAPY: The scent of both gingers is stimulating and aphrodisiac.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citrates)
Also referred to as Ta-Krai in Thai. Originally from India, lemongrass is also an important medicine in South America and in South East Asia. The oil is distilled mostly for use in soaps, cosmetics, and deodorants.
TASTE: bitter sour
PARTS USED: leaf and stem
MEDICINAL: It is highly antiseptic and antibiotic and treats pain from indigestion, rheumatism, nerve conditions, and headaches. The Thai use it to treat indigestion, abnormal urination, and to improve appetite and stimulate menstruation.
COSMETIC/SKIN: Lemongrass counters oily hair, acne, skin infections, scabies, and ringworm. It is also a deodorant.
AROMATHERAPY: The fragrance is sedating and soothing, although it helps increase mental awareness at the same time.
CONSIDERATIONS: It is nontoxic but causes skin sensitivity in a few people.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Also referred to as Kha-min in Thai. Turmeric is yellow/golden in color.
PARTS USED: Rhizome
MEDICINAL: Turmeric calms indigestion and is a strong anti-inflammatory. The rhizome is used in Thailand to treat intestinal worms and dysentery. Many studies back its use for these conditions. It is also a renowned antioxidant and liver protectant and has anticancer properties.
COSMETIC/SKIN: Topically, it is used on wounds. It kills numerous bacterial and viral infections, including staph.
Tamarind leaf (Tamarindus indica)
Also referred to as Ma-Kham in Thai. The Tamarind tree grows in the Sudan, South East Asia, India, Australia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The fruit, enclosed in a thin shell, contains several seeds covered by the pulp. Every part of the Tamarind tree is used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes.
PARTS USED: leaf
MEDICINAL: Tamarind leaf is good for cleansing the skin, treating skin inflammations, reducing fevers and pain, treating symptoms of the common cold, curing liver disorders, protecting liver function, improving eye health, and improving symptoms from a hangover. The fruit is very fibrous and is used in Ayurvedic Medicine for gastric and digestion problems.
COSMETIC/SKIN: Topically, the leaves reduce skin inflammation and skin disorders. In Thailand, the fruit is also made into a paste that you rub all over your body during steam showers and treatments. It is very emollient.
Kaffir lime peels and leaves (Citrus hystrix, Citrus papedia)
Also referred to as Puew Makrut in Thai. Like all citruses, these thick-skinned limes are native to SE Asia.
TASTE: bitter sour
PARTS USED: rind and leaf of the fruit
MEDICINAL: Kaffir Lime is used to treat the flu, colds, congested lymph, irregular heartbeat, and can slightly lower high blood pressure. It is a natural cleanser and deodorizer; reduces dizziness and tension; and improves dry skin, damaged hair, and dandruff.
COSMETIC/SKIN: It is good on oily complexions. It also moisturizes dry skin and hair.
AROMATHERAPY: The sedative fragrance counters depression, hysteria, shock, and nervous tension. It can also increase mental awareness and possibly awareness on other levels. Briefly inhaling Kaffir Lime peels and leaves brings done blood pressure a few points.
CONSIDERATIONS: The oil is slightly photosensitizing.
Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora)
Also referred to as Kara Boon in Thai. A strong antiseptic, camphor is extracted by vapor distillation from the camphor tree.
PARTS USED: leaf
MEDICINAL: Used to stimulate the heart, treats neuralgia and arthritis, draws blood to the surface and detoxifies. It is a warming agent, so can be used to warm cold and freezing body parts. Kara Boon is a diaphoretic (produces perspiration), which is good for treating asthma and rhinitis.
AROMATHERAPY: Camphor’s strong odor is stimulating and is used to counter shock. It also works as an anti-depressant and focuses one’s attention. Arabs say it reduces sexual desire. Statues of Buddha were carved from camphor wood because the scent was said to bring worshippers closer to prayer and meditation.
CONSIDERATIONS: White Camphor is safe in small amounts. It is a heart stimulant, so use it cautiously with people who have an irregular or rapid heart beat. Aromatherapists do not use brown or yellow camphor, which are produced from the heaviest parts of the oil because they have concentrated toxic compounds.
Borneal (Borneo) Camphor (Dryobalanops aromatica)
Not a true camphor, Borneal was used against plague and serious digestive infections. In fact, Marco Polo called borneal camphor the “balsam of disease”. The Chinese burn camphor incense during funerals and important ceremonies. The Thais also use Borneal Camphor and Camphor to treat nausea and tensions caused from heat and dehydration.
PARTS USED: leaf
MEDICINAL: similar properties to Camphor—treats wounds, sprains, infectious disease, nerve pain, and nervous exhaustion.
AROMATHERAPY: The sharp smell is very stimulating to the mind and emotions.
CONSIDERATIONS: Use in small amounts, especially with someone who has a nervous system-related condition. Large amounts will counter its beneficial properties to the nervous system.
Menthol (Mentha X Piperita)
Also referred to as Pimsane in Thai. The menthol used in these compresses is a naturally occurring compound obtained from peppermint oil. It has a waxy, crystallized textured, either clear or white in color.
MEDICINAL: Local anesthetic with counter irritant qualities, relieves throat irritation. It is antibacterial and cooling, increases blood flow, reduces swelling, acts as a carminative (aids digestion), and aids the heart, stomach, and skin.
Pandanus leaf (Pandanus amaryllifolius)
Also referred to as Bai Toei in Thai. The plant has shiny, pleated leaves that are long and slender. Its aroma develops as the plant withers—the pandanus leaf still intact on the plant does not have an aroma. In Thailand it is common to see bowls full of pandanus leaf that have been picked and are slowly withering as they float in the water.
PARTS USED: leaf
MEDICINAL: This leaf has an earthy, nutty fragrance. It is the Thai equivalent to vanilla. Pandanus leaf has a cooling effect. It aids and treats internal inflammations, urinary infections, colds, coughs, measles, bleeding gums, skin diseases, and is an anti-depressant.
CONSIDERATIONS: In Thailand Pandanus Leaf is also used widely for cooking—mainly in rice dishes and in coconut desserts.
Acacia leaf (Acacia concinna)
Also referred to as Bai Som Poy in Thai, as Shikakai in Hindi, and as Soap Pod Leaf in English. The Acacia leaf is considered a sacred herb in Thailand; at the wats it is placed in water and used to purify and consecrate images.
PARTS USED: leaf
MEDICINAL: Moves lymph, can be used as an expectorant in higher doses (moving mucus and other materials from the lungs), relieves coughing, relieves fevers, heals wounds, and sanctifies/clears spaces.
COSMETIC/SKIN: Used in anti-dandruff shampoos and heals wounds.
Sea Salt (sodium chloride)
Also referred to as Gleua in Thai. The unrefined salt variety is preferred.
MEDICINAL: increases absorption of herbs into the skin
CONSIDERATIONS: preservative agent for the herbs, enables better absorption of heat in the compresses, clears negative energy